Saturday, April 30, 2011

birthday girls.

Today is my birthday. It is also my daughter Cameron's birthday. She's three, and I'm a lot (lot) older than her. In fact, when she asked me how old I was and I told her, she looked at me like "whoa, I can't even count that high, are you for real?".  Add to that, I'm fairly certain that she thinks all little girls are born on their mom's birthday and all little boys are born on their dad's birthday.

It seems like both yesterday and a decade ago that she was born. She is truly the best birthday present I have ever received (though the new Nikon 55-300 zoom lens I got this year from my family comes pretty close (I kid, I kid).  I took this photo of Cameron with it.  I was standing on our back deck and she was at the end of the backyard none the wiser.

We kept things fairly low key today (we are still recovering from birthdaypalooza).  Since I wasn't allowed to bring Cameron's daycare class cupcakes (even though the cupcake bakery is nut free!) we went on a birthday girl cupcake outing this afternoon. I think I'm going to start a tradition of just the birthday girls doing something special when April 30th rolls around. Maybe next year we'll do a spa day or something (start 'em young I say).

Happy Birthday Cammie! You are the best little girl a mommy could ask for!

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

mommy, what are you going to be?

It was an innocent question. One that was preceded with clarifications about the fact that Max is a boy, and daddy is a man, and that Max will one day be a man, and that Cameron is a girl, and I am a woman, and that Cameron will one day be a woman. And then she asked me that question that I have been asking myself for a long, long time.

"Mommy, what are you going to be?"

Now, for sure, she was looking for the next step after being a woman - and I hated to burst her bubble and say, "well, that's it". But it really hit me in a much more meaningful way than that.

What am I going to be?

Truth is, I haven't completely figured it out. I know for sure what I don't want to be. I'm lucky enough that I have a new opportunity starting next week that is a huge step in the right direction towards what I think I want to be. It's scary and exciting and holy shit, I'm really doing it...I can really make this happen (with a lot of work and a little luck).

I want to work in the online and mobile space.
I want to create.
I want to communicate. And advocate. And educate.
I want to be inspired and maybe even inspire.

I want to do things that matter.

I want to be able to care for my family.
And find balance for myself.
I want to not feel guilty about calling in sick to work because my daughter has a tummy ache or my son who has Autism hasn't slept all night and is unable to go to school because he won't be able to function.

I want it all.  I am going to have it all.

I'll let you know when I figure out what I am going to be.

social media moms help moms in need this mother's day!

When Nirasha Jaganath told me about a project she was participating in that was about helping moms in need this Mother’s Day, she had me "at hello". I have recently become a contributor for her site Mommy Niri Cares and being asked to be a part of this project was really exciting. Holly Pavlika led this initiative and within one afternoon, she gathered 12 moms to join forces. But not just any 12 moms. 12 influential social media moms!

I am not going to relay all the facts here, you should visit Holly’s post and also see the Facebook page to get a run down.

Here are the facts:

$14.6 billion* was spent on Mother’s Day presents last year in the U.S. alone!
One word: Ridiculous! Now I like perfume and lovely wine as much as anyone else but listen up, we need to keep that gifting in check. There are people out there that need us. Yes, it matters to us. It should. We are known for our compassion and nurturing spirit and that should extend beyond our boundaries. Whether the social, medical or political circumstances are the reasons for harm, we should be the healing force. What is that?
“I can’t afford to help??”
Oh, yes you can. Don’t give me that. Everyone can help. Whether it is by tweeting, FB’ing, writing a post, donating money (as little as $5 helps), or donating your old cell-phone (even the tab for shipping is picked up).
“So who will this help?”
Every Mother Counts is an organization Christy Turlington started after her own home birth went awry. The documentary will air on the Oprah Winfrey Network on May 7th at 9:30–11 p.m. (ET/PT). The organization works with maternal deaths and supports moms in several countries. Here are some stats, read them and weep as they are weep-worthy:
  • There is one maternal death every 90 seconds. So by the time you would have read this post, lives are being lost!
  • 15% of all pregnancies result in complications during labor and delivery and sometimes are fatal. Shocking in this day and age!
  • Pregnancy is the biggest killer of girls ages 15-19. This is an age we don’t even consider when we think about moms.
  • For every woman who dies in childbirth, 20 more suffer from debilitating complications. Which also means that several complications go uncounted and lives are forever impacted.
  • We have the knowledge to prevent 90% of all maternal deaths. Not only knowledge, but power too!

Will you post today?

Join Holly, Nirasha, myself and my fellow friends below as we show the power of social media moms
Audrey McClelland, Mom Generations
Linda Grant,
Beth Feldman,
Erica Diamond,
Kelly Loubet, 
Everyday Childhood
Katja Presnal,
Karina Asner Carefoot,
Julie Cole, 
Mabel’s Labels
Molly Hayden Gold, 
The GO MOM! Organizer
Dagmar Bleasdale, 
Dagmar’s momsense

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

one step closer to max's autism service dog.

This past Sunday was a very special day for our family and a certain future four pawed member who will be joining us at some point in late 2012.  We were presented with a cheque from Milk-Bone for $18,000 at the All About Pets Show.  This money will be used by National Service Dogs to fund Max's Autism Service Dog.

Max did remarkably well at the show, especially considering the presentation was an hour later than we had prepared for.  I don't think I'll bring him to another huge show like this anytime soon though as it was very stressful for him (and the rest of us!).  Hopefully having a service dog will make experiences like this easier for Max.  A big thank you to Milk-Bone for helping Max get one step closer to his dog!

Monday, April 25, 2011

photo essay: easter/birthdaypalooza weekend - part 2.

Birthdaypalooza took place this past Saturday (Max and Scott's birthday). Check out this kick ass cake our friend made for the party!
The favourite gift by far was the teeter totter my folks bought the kids.  I assembled it myself (thank you P90X!).  I should point out that I came outside and the kids had gotten on the teeter totter all by themselves.  Max understood that he was the one who had to push off and keep the momentum going too.
Cam was pretty thrilled when her uncle Chris showed up.  Aunt Lulu couldn't make it because she was off partying in Barcelona.

Brad and Jen chilled out with some adult pops.

Maya and Hannah took a turn on the teeter totter.
Jen helped Maddox in the sandbox.

Cam was so excited about the party that she passed out before we cut the cake.

Max was very interested in the lighting of the candles. I think he just wanted to be certain he would get the first piece.
Cam got the honours of blowing the candles out. (Max headed for the hills when the singing started.)

I felt a little weird cutting such a beautiful cake! Cameron wanted me to give her both Dora and Diego to eat. Didn't happen.

Cam dug in, with a beer to wash it down.  Kidding, the beer was for Max.

Maddox was all about it.  No idea where those vegetables came from.

Post cake, Cam and Max mixed it up with the balloons while the rest of us sat back and observed, waiting for the sugar crash.
All in all, it was a terrific day. Max had a really good time (much better than in previous years), Cameron was quite pleased with all of the people who came out (though for some reason, not everyone was caught on camera). Day 2 of easter/birthdaypalooza weekend was a success!

Tomorrow - The All About Pets Show and Max's cheque presentation for his Service Dog!

Sunday, April 24, 2011

photo essay: easter/birthdaypalooza weekend.

This has been a whirlwind of a weekend.  I don't know where to start.  We have been on the go since Friday and while we have had a lot of fun, I think we are all breathing a sigh of relief that things will get back to *normal* tomorrow (normal? what does that even mean around these parts?).

My folks arrived from BC (yay!!).  Cameron was so excited when they arrived that she couldn't stop running from one end of the house to the other, grabbing every toy she could find to show it to them.  I think they liked their personal pint size welcome wagon.

The National Service Dogs For Autism Easter Egg Hunt (for dogs) was held at Bronte Park.  The entire family went to the park to take in the wondrous site of what seemed like hundreds of dogs romping around the park searching for eggs (filled with Milkbone treats).  I swear, you have never seen so many well behaved dogs in one place.

Scott took on the job of making sure Max stayed out of trouble.  With such a wide open space, Max was interested in running and running and...running.  I think Scott had a good workout.

I took a lot of photos of dogs.  This little guy (Archie) was my favourite.  Look at that face!

Cam collected a bunch of eggs (the organizers were kind enough not to scold her, as only the dogs were supposed to be collecting eggs!).  Every time she came back with a handful they took them and put them back out in the park for the dogs.  Check out her new shades (thanks Grandma!).
Beautiful dogs:

Tomorrow: Birthdaypalooza photo essay!

Thursday, April 21, 2011

accepting my imperfections in mothering a child with autism.

As part of Autism Awareness Month, I asked the talented folks at if I might provide them with a guest post for them to consider for their site.  I was thrilled when they said "yes".  I hope you'll check it out.

Without fail, the first thing I hear each morning is my son Max yelling “mommy, daddy, open the door, Max poop”. Every day, before I have even put a foot on the floor, I mentally kick myself for not getting up earlier than him to avoid all of this. If only I had gotten up, I could have woken Max up and positively reinforced the fact that he had not woken up and immediately stripped off his pajama bottoms and pull-up and dropped a deuce on his bedroom floor. Instead, I selfishly remained in a blissful slumber, allowing my five year old son, who has Autism, to once again repeat this undesirable behavior and further ingrain it into his daily routine.

For some reason, this responsibility rests squarely on my shoulders. Apparently I am okay with this, because rain or shine, it is me who is on her knees cleaning up feces every damn day. Perhaps it is a self-assigned punishment I have taken on to fully embrace mommy martyrdom. This is not the only time I will fail my son today. This is not the only time I will feel a deep sense of shame for not being good enough, strong enough, or energetic enough. the rest of this post at

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

birthdaypalooza 2011 prep.

Something you may not know about my family, is we have a very special birthday celebration every year called "Birthdaypalooza".  Birthdaypalooza is a party for me, Scott, Max, and Cameron, all rolled into one.  You see, Max was born on Scott's birthday back in April 2006. Two years and one week later, Cameron was born on my birthday.  No c-sections, just a sprinkle of fate and a smile from the universe.  People are always shocked when I tell them about our special bond (and I enjoy watching their reactions).
This year is an especially big deal because for the first time, we have a kid who is excited about a birthday party.  Max has never expressed one bit of interest in his birthday.  Cam is a whole different story.  She has been talking about her birthday for weeks (note, she does not care that it also Max's, Scott's and my birthday as well).  In fact, I'm guessing she thinks it's normal to have the same birthday as your mom.  She wants lots of balloons! and chairs! (I don't fully understand the excitement about chairs.)  And the cake, my goodness, the cake.

A few weeks ago Nana and Cam made a cake together.  Ever since, Cam has been asking when would I make a cake with her.  I was hoping she'd drop it, but of course she didn't.  Cam thought we should not only make a cake, but it should be a birthday cake with candles and we should sing "Happy Birthday" to her.  As you can see, I finally caved - here's the video to prove it.

Friday, April 15, 2011

fake it 'til you make it.

This has been one long ass week. Seriously, can it just be over already? For the most part I am fairly decent at pulling myself up out of the dumps, but not this week.  I found out that someone who is really important to me, who has been a mentor and a key part of our journey with Max, doesn't have much time left to live. And I'm really sad. And angry. Because she isn't done, there is so much more for her to do on this earth, and she is desperately needed. I've never been under the illusion that life is fair, but losing my friend Kim is really, really not fair.  I know that she wants us all to be strong, so I'm putting on a brave face and I will try to fake it 'til I make it.  She is someone who smiles a lot, and who lights up a room when she enters.  So I'm going to do my best impression of her and send her all the love in my heart.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

autism awareness: how do we determine the value of an individual?

I've had a thought bouncing around in my head for a while now. It has to do with how we, as a society (and as individuals) determine the value of others. My thinking actually begins at the end. As in, one day, we will all die. Every last one of us (anti-aging regimens be damned). Whatever you believe happens after that is irrelevant. At some point, you will shed your mortal coil and that will be the end of your story (here on earth anyway). Very few of us will be remembered. I suspect even Elvis will be forgotten in 50 years. Knowing this, that we are the most valuable we will ever be at this very moment, I ask you again, how do we determine the value of an individual?

I'm a parent of a child with Autism. I have assembled a team of people to work with my son, to help him develop skills and coping mechanisms so that he can fit into "the norm". So that he can be "average". So that we can all be more comfortable around him. But mostly, because I want for him to live a happy and fulfilled life, whatever that looks like. Does he, as a person who has Autism, have less value than someone who runs a Fortune 100 company? Is he any better or worse? More or less worthy of love? Are his ideas of less value? If the way you determine a person's "value" is by what he or she does to earn money, does that idea hold true when you come back to the fact that one day, we will all die.

My daughter Cameron may end up having a more successful career, more friends, and maybe even have her own family if that is something she decides she would like. If Max does not end up having a fancy job, or a lot of friends, or get married, does that mean that his life is of less value than Cameron's? That he has contributed less to society? Will he only be considered a success story if he "beats" Autism and becomes an engineer or an architect?  Have we been taught that to be truly successful one has to overcome his or her perceived disabilities or do things that average people can do to prove one's worth? I wonder.

Max, with his bright eyes and winning smile, has done a lot more in his 5 years on this planet than many people will do in their entire lifetimes.  He has taught me how to love in a way I never would have known if it weren't for him.  He has opened up the hearts of everyone he has met and helped so many people understand more about Autism.  I have no idea what the future has in store for us.  But perhaps changing my focus to the idea that we are the most valuable we will ever be at this very moment, regardless of our present or future achievements, will help me worry less about the future and embrace Max for everything he is today.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

autism awareness month: fly away.

As part of Autism Awareness Month, I was asked to review the movie Fly Away. It arrived in the mail two weeks ago. I have been putting off watching it because I have a really hard time watching movies about Autism.  And yes, I have seen the wonderful movie about Tempel Grandin, and I watch the tv show Parenthood, thanks for asking. 

One of the things I struggle with most is not knowing what the future will bring.  We have no idea how much progress Max will have.  While we hope that he will be able to live some semblance of an independent life, this may not be feasible for him.  I prefer to focus on the strides he is making and I do have a deep belief that Max's future is very bright.  We are only a few years into this journey with Autism.  It is hard to watch movies about older kids with Autism because this may be a forecasting of our future, and it may not.  There is a part of me that feels like accepting that Max may not reach a point where he can live independently is actually setting that future into motion by allowing my vision for Max to have such limitations, and giving these thoughts room in my mind to take hold.  Should I not be of the mindset that the sky is the limit for Max? That he can do anything? Or maybe I am being unfair to Max by putting too much focus on him developing new skills and being able to fit in with his peers.  I will love him either way, so why put so much focus on it?

I finally gathered up the nerve to watch the movie last night.  I lasted 24 minutes before I had to turn it off.  It was just too close to home for me.  It was like watching my life being reenacted by a woman and her 16 year old daughter who has Autism.  The things that this woman and her daughter deal with in the movie are the same things we deal with on a day to day basis with our son Max, who is turning 5 in a few weeks.  The calls from school that he needs to be picked up because he is having a meltdown, the aggression he exhibits when he is put into a no-win situation that he is not able to cope with, the impact on my ability to do my professional work effectively, the sleepless nights, the odd behaviours that become your norm, and on and on. 

I think when you live with a child with Autism, the things you do to maintain calm in your home become ingrained in you and you forget that this is not how other people live.  It isn't until you step outside the situation and view it from 50,000 feet that you see just how much you do every day, and how much stress you live with.  It took my breath away. 

Would I recommend this movie? If you have a child with Autism, probably not.  If you don't have a child with Autism, yes, you should watch it.  It may make you feel uncomfortable at times, but it will also give you an accurate insight into what families with children with Autism deal with.  When you are done watching it, I hope you come back here and comment and let me know how it ends (just kidding).  I read the synopsis, I know what happens.  While you are at it, please consider sponsoring Max for the Toronto Walk Now For Autism coming up in June.

Friday, April 08, 2011

snips and snails and puppy dog tails.

With the weather warming up, Max is constantly asking us "go outside".  We prompt him to say "mommy/daddy, I want to go outside", but really, it is a big deal that he is asking with words at all.  Last year at this time he would bang on the back door with his hands and whine if he wanted to go in the backyard.  Mind you, he still doesn't have much patience for the whole getting ready to go outside business, (socks and boots and a coat? you guys are KILLING ME), but he understands that he has to get his gear on before we will open the back door.  His favourite thing to do is to collect rocks and leaves and push them through the fence to our neighbours' yard.  Somehow in the process he always manages to get his hands and face completely filthy.  I still think he is beautiful though (dirt and all). 

Thursday, April 07, 2011

my very own stitch.

The question that I get never get asked is "what is it like having a child with Autism?". People will state "I have no idea how you do it" or "you are such an amazing mother" but that's where it ends.  I always respond the same way, which is, "I do what anyone would do in my situation".  From the outside, people either imagine having a child with Autism as impossibly hard or they completely underestimate just how difficult every day truly is.

If I had to sum it up in one sentence, I'd say "imagine having your very own Stitch, except he looks like you".  That is to say, he doesn't look like a cross between a 6 legged koala and a boston terrier, and he isn't your family pet, but his behaviour is not far off that of the out of control and destructive Stitch.  Add to that, you get to be Lilo.  You love this little alien with the passion of 1000 hot suns and no matter what happens, you will always stand by him.

The interesting thing about Stitch is that he isn't programmed to love or to attempt to fit in.  It is only through Lilo's unconditional love, stubbornness and patience that he begins to understand the concept of family, belonging and most important, wanting to belong.  Sure she gets furious with him, and he makes her terribly sad.  But through thick and thin, she loves him and will not give up on him.  
that's me on the left at 5 years of age and Max at 28 months

When I look at Max, I see myself.  He is a ringer for my side of the family.  It is an odd feeling to look into Max's eyes and wonder what is going on in his head?  Through intensive therapy, we have gotten him to a point where he understands that he is safe with us, we are his people.  At the end of the movie when Stitch says "This is my family. I found it, all on my own. Is little, and broken, but still good. Yeah, still good" I always look to Max and feel a semblance of comfort in the belief that he knows this is true, and that we will always be here with him. 

The hope, of course, is that Max will continue to develop new skills and be able to communicate and converse, to know happiness and fulfillment. It's hard not knowing if and when any of this will happen.  As Max's own personal Lilo, I try to maintain that fierce belief that anything is possible and naysayers be damned. As this very astute little girl said "Ohana means family, family means nobody gets left behind. Or forgotten".

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

insanity: day 2.

day 2 and I'm a hot mess!!
After wrapping P90X up, I knew I needed a different challenge. A lot of people jump right back into another round with Tony, but I wasn't quite ready for that (I'm waiting for the new P90X that is coming out later this year). Somehow, my coach and online friend Gina talked me into joining her on the Insanity program. 60 days, 45 minutes per day tops, and the before and after photos from other people are incredible. I figured I'd give it a shot. My brother-in-law is getting married in June, so I set a goal of getting a new dress when I complete the program.

Well. I thought I was in shape after completing P90X, but this program, it takes conditioning to a whole new level. On the first day you take a fit test to get a baseline of where you are at. I was huffing and puffing after only the warm up! Half way through the fit test I was cursing a blue streak. I am quite confident that Shaun T's name is taken in vain thousands of times a day around the world. And I bet you he loves that too.  Day 2 is the real start of the program.  Basically you go as hard as you can until you feel like you are going to fall on the floor, and then you do that again two more times before you get a 60 second water break.  Then you work through a new series of moves in the same manner.  It's 45 minutes of hell.  But, to its credit, it goes by fairly quickly.  Also, I started feeling sore an hour after the workout! How is that even possible? 

Today is day 3.  I have no idea what is in store for me, but I will be pressing play regardless.  Once I decide I'm going to do something, there is no backing out for me.  I'm hoping my "after" pictures in June will show a leaner, meaner me and I'm looking forward to going shopping for a dress that will show off my hard work!

Sunday, April 03, 2011

p90x: before and after photos.

I started P90X on December 26, 2010 and completed it March 30, 2011. These are my before and after photos. The reason I started P90X was that I was feeling terrible emotionally and disconnected from my body and I knew something had to change. Also, a friend of mine who had completed the program alluded to it being pretty hard and wasn't sure I could do it (thems there fightin' words!).  While the before and after pictures definitely show a difference in my physique, the thing I am focused on is the smile on my face in the after photo.
I'm not going to list all my before and after measurements, but they are decent. I dropped from a size 12/14 to a size 8. I "only" lost 7 pounds during the program. I say "only" because I am told that muscle weighs twice that of fat but takes up only 2/3 the space, which explains the big changes I have seen to my body with relatively little change on the scale.  My energy level is much higher and I am generally dealing with stress better and feeling more positive about the world.  Next up is the "Insanity" program - I am starting tomorrow! It's a 60 day program and I'll probably post the results here when I wrap that up in early June. Stay tuned!

the cn tower lighting it up blue for world autism awareness day.

Christopherr Mendoza, a dear friend and incredible designer, took this photo of the CN Tower for me last night. Thank you Chris!!  Christopherr also designed the header for this site, and has designed our Team Maxwell shirts for the past 2 years. We are blessed to have his support in our journey with Max.  (He is also my concert bff.)

We will be participating in the 2011 Walk Now For Autism and would truly appreciate your support.  1 in 70 boys will be diagnosed with Autism and there has been a 600% increase in autism diagnosis in the past 20 years.  It's time to figure this puzzle out.

Friday, April 01, 2011

the hard days of autism.

Today is the beginning of Autism Awareness month (tomorrow is the official "Autism Awareness Day" for the sticklers out there). In a quasi-ironic reminder from the universe, the last few days with Max have been really tough. He is getting a cold, hasn't been sleeping well, and has brought back some of his favourite behaviours from the "challenging behaviours we were hoping we were done with" hall of fame.
It is always discouraging for us when this happens.  We try to remind ourselves that whenever Max is sick, his behaviour goes sideways and that he will get back on track once he is feeling better.  But that is little consolation when you are in the middle of it.  I can sit here and write about it now and feel calm, repeat the mantra "two steps forward, one step back" and take a deep breath.  I was not so cool and collected this morning as Scott and I tried to get the kids out the door.  In fact, it was Scott who kept his wits about him and told me to go sit in the car and cool off and he would get the kids ready.  He was the strong one this morning (thanks Scott!!).
All kids have patches of regression.  We see that with Cameron and toilet training and sleeping in her own bed.  But when your child has Autism, it hurts so badly because you fight tooth and nail for every bit of progress.  Last week Max did wonderfully at his social language group.  This week I spent the entire hour blocking and redirecting him to keep him engaged.  The only thing he wanted any part of was the popping bubbles activity, and even that he made into a contact sport.
future wide receiver?
Of course, the other kid's mom was at the group for the first time, so her first impression of Max is that he is a bruiser who is incapable of sitting down and participating.  I don't know why I care what another parent of a child on the spectrum thinks of Max.  Her child is very high functioning, so they aren't even in the same realm.  Come to think of it, I probably should have just called and cancelled the group given how out of sorts Max was (but I am loathe to cancel any therapy of Max's unless he is completely incapacitated).
There is no doubt that Max will turn it around and have a burst of progress once he is feeling better.  And you know I'll be sure to report on it when it happens.  Just keep in mind, for all families dealing with Autism, that the hard days are frequent and likely harder than you can imagine.  Please consider sponsoring Max for the Toronto Walk Now for Autism this June.  He's worth it.  All these kids are.